How To: Build a Better Burger


I have had a lot of underwhelming cheeseburgers in my life, too many. Most everyone can throw a cheeseburger together–they are not terribly complicated–but a few key details are often missed and the resulting sandwich is boring, tasteless, dry, and frankly, a waste of time. I try eat pretty healthy 80% of the time and if I use up a portion of the 20% I set aside for the not-so-healthy foods on a poorly made hamburger I get kinda bummed. I want to turn all those blocks of gray, overcooked beef on a soggy buns into a something a little more juicy, complex, and worth the calories.

S&GHamburger (1 of 7)
S&GHamburger (2 of 7)

Cheeseburger Core Ingredients
Ground meat

Cheeseburger Rules & Guidelines

Bread: Choose your buns wisely

  • Reaching for the standard, soft hamburger bun is not always the best choice. A burger with a lot of wet ingredients calls for a bun that can handle it, think ciabatta
  • I am a fan of toasting the bun in all situations but it is especially important in a very soft bread like your standard bun or (my favorite) a brioche bun. Toasting protects the bread from getting soggy from your sauce and the burger juices. Don’t skip it!
  • Think about how much you want the flavor of your bun to shine. A brioche bun will be a little sweet and the flavor will be prominent, as will a pretzel roll.
  • Fun alternatives:
    • Huge, thick texas toast
    • English Muffin
    • Pita bread
    • Halved biscuit

S&GHamburger (4 of 7)

Meat: Handle with care

  • Always choose a ground meat that has a high fat content, even higher if you plan on cooking on the grill instead of the stove top. If your choice is naturally leaner (such as ground turkey or lamb) add some fat by gently mixing in shredded bacon or other fatty meat.
  • Keep meat cold and wet your hands before forming into patties. Heat will start to dissolve the fat so keep the meat in the fridge until the last minute. Wetting your hands will keep the meat from sticking to your hands and create a small barrier between your body heat and the fat.
  • Do not overmix the meat. If you’re adding herbs or other flavoring to the meat be as gentle as possible. If you mix it too much the meat will become very tough.
  • Form into patties & then season generously with salt & pepper on the outside.
  • Do not squeeze into patties. Form gently into loose patties that just hold together.
  • Push a dimple into the center of your patties before cooking. This will keep them from getting really small and thick.
  • Do not overcook! Use a instant read thermometer if you have one, or use your finger to judge the firmness of the patty — guide (this method takes practice but it’s the one I use. Anyone wanna buy me a Thermapen?)
  • Fun alternatives:
    • Ground lamb mixed with prosciutto
    • Ground pork mixed with italian sausage
    • Ground chicken mixed with bacon
    • Salmon

S&GHamburger (3 of 7)

Sauce: Opt for complimenting condiments

  • Consider the overall flavors of your burger and do not be afraid of skipping the pre-made condiments to create your own. Skies the limit when it comes to sauces, just make sure what you choose marries well with your toppings. If you’re unsure of the flavor profile dip your toppings into the sauce and taste to see if it works.
  • Fun Alternatives:
    • Aioli
    • Tzatziki
    • Queso
    • Hollandaise

Cheese: Melty is always good, but not a rule

  • Typically I like a strong cheese flavor with good meltability but I’ve had burgers with thick slices of mozzarella or a mound of strong blue cheese that were really good too.
  • Remember some cheeses are incredibly strong in flavor. If you pick something like blue cheese, watch your proportions; you don’t want the burger to just be a vehicle for a mouthful of cheese.
  • Fun Alternatives:
    • Feta
    • Brie
    • Shaved parmesan

Toppings/Veggies: Go classic or crazy

  • Lettuce, tomato, sliced red onion. Classic. Delicious. Go this route if you like, I often do. But it can be really fun to play with toppings. As always, keep the overall flavor profile in mind when you choose. For example, you might not want to put pickles on the same burger as pepperoncini, they are too similar in flavor.
  • Toppings offer the opportunity to bring some texture into play. I nearly always appreciate something crunchy on burgers.
  • Ask yourself, what kind of flavors or textures could be played with here?
  • Fun Alternatives
    • Crushed potatoes chips
    • Roasted red pepper
    • Olive tapenade
    • Vinegared cucumbers

S&GHamburger (5 of 7)

Core Steps:

  1. Pre-prep all toppings and sauces completely. Arrange in an organized way so burgers can be quickly assembled once done cooking
  2. Form beef into patties with a dimple in the center. Season the patties well with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook patties in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat until cooked but still slightly pink the center, let rest for 1 minute.
  4. Toast bread and top with sauce, burgers and toppings.

I encourage you to get creative with flavors and come up with your own “house specialty” burger. Below, I’ve included some links to interesting burger recipes to inspire you. I’ll be back later this week with my own version, see you then.

S&GHamburger (6 of 7)

Pictured Here:Lamb Burgers with Spicy Aioli (Via Bon Appetit)
Taco Burgers (via How Sweet It Is)
Bahn Mi Burgers (via Food52)
Portabella Turkey Burgers (via FoodNetwork)


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